I could be wrong, but I think maybe the only thing a man may hate more than having The Dreaded Where Is This Relationship Going Conversation is having the topic dissected online, on his girlfriend's blog.
* * * *
When I met Ish, we got along famously (almost) from the start. Which was great except it wasn't, because everything about him screamed NOT GOOD DATING MATERIAL.
Now -- oh-ho -- don't get me wrong: the stats, the "on paper" version of Ish reads like a World's Most Desirable Bachelor dossier. If I do say so myself, he's good looking and in good shape, with a great education and excellent taste; he's well read, well traveled, fun, personable, and polite. And yes, funny. I mean, MBA-cum-stand-up-comedian? Are you kidding me? AND a dog lover? Sign me up.
Huh? What's that? Oh, right.
When we started seeing each other, he was also newly separated. Or, I suppose if you want to get technical, he was married.
Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
But what are you going to do? He answered an online ad of mine, we went out the next day. I knew he was separated and had just moved to SF, and so fine. I had low (which is to say "reasonable" given my online dating experiences of that summer) expectations. We went out and we had a nice time.
I don't want to lead you down the primrose path, he said to me on our first date. Those were his actual words. Because he is romantic like that.
I replied, Haha, don't worry.
I didn't elaborate then, but not only were my expectations low, I HAD ACTUALLY LIVED on Primrose Lane (I'm not even kidding) and you know? That didn't work out so well in the real sense OR the metaphorical one.
Steering clear of the primrose seemed like a perfectly fine thing to do. Amen.
But he was married and separated and completely unsure about most things in his life. His job was uninspiring and somewhat temporary. His knowledge of the SF stand-up scene was dusty. His everyday life was the opposite of grounded. He had a tiny, charmless studio apartment with barely any furniture and certainly no personality. As far as I could tell, most of his belongings were back in New York.
You know, awaiting his return.
No. Not good dating material.
* * * * *
The first several months we were together were the greatest test to Me-As-Grown-Up I have ever experienced, relationship-wise. There were so many things I wanted to ask him, and so many things I just wanted settled.
Hi, honey, how was your day? And also, are you planning on staying in San Francisco? Are you moving back to New York? Are you going to try and work it out? Are you going to get divorced? Are you taking our relationship seriously? Am I just an interim friend? What are we doing? What are you doing? WHAT IS GOING ON?
But those things weren't easily settle-able, nor were they settle-able by me. I had to back off and shut up.
For the first time in my life, I had to let it go.
But...I did. He did his thing while we did ours. Which meant, among other things, that his reality was compartmentalized for a long time. There was his crazy pseudo-life in San Francisco, the one that made no sense and had no real long-term potential, but that was fun and silly and included me; and there was his everything-else life, the one with his wife and cats and dogs and family and in-laws and sense and reason and a decade of memories that I had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with. He would be with me when we were together; otherwise, he was somewhere else, working on his "real" issues.
We didn't talk about the future.
"Us" was a fleeting and abstract concept.
We simply enjoyed each other's company together, and worked on figuring out the rest of our lives separately.
* * * * * *
Ish's divorce will be final soon.
This morning, he picked up the keys to his new place.
His new apartment is a simple, airy one-bedroom with a layout almost exactly like mine. Very old-school San Francisco. He will enjoy making it his own.
For the last year-and-a-half, he has lived his compartmentalized life like a nomad. His walls are stacked high with boxes he received but never unpacked, with return labels advertising an address in New York that's still, technically, part his. He sleeps on a futon and eats dinner on a second- or third-hand table he bought for about $4 from some guy on Craigslist.
He has not lived like a man who plans to stick around.
We're both excited for that to change.
* * * * * *
To me, Ish's new apartment marks a new phase in our relationship:
Because as much as we've grown to know each other, and enjoy each other, and love each other, our whole relationship has been shrouded in uncertainty and skepticism.
(Nothing says "prime for a rebound" like a grown man suddenly scoring gently used Ikean furniture on the cheap.)
And there's been some shame, too, along with justifications galore. Because some of our friends and family? They have Those Questions.
...God, Ish, why did you start seeing her so soon after your separation?
...If he's really trying to work things out with his wife, why is he dating you?
...Don't you think you need time to be on your own?
...Why can't you just be single for a while?
...Why would you ever consider dating a married man, even if he is separated?
And I think it would be great to not have all of that hanging over us, at least not so directly. I want to experience dating Ish as his girlfriend, not his explanation. I want to be able to tell people he is my boyfriend, and not have to launch into that great big caveat.
It'll be nice to finally feel like I'm -- we're -- on solid footing.
So I guess the slate, it's...it's not exactly clean, but we're too old for that anyway. I don't want a clean slate, I want a sturdy one.
One that doesn't come from Ikea.
*Um, I love Ikea and am sure that at least some of the pieces Ish picks out will come from there, as is inevitable when you live in the Bay Area. Don't think I'm hating!